These are verbatim transcripts of interviews, reflecting spoken rather than written language.
INTERVIEWER 1: It’s the 25th of January, 2022, and I’m Natalie McGrath and I am here to record a story interview for Out and About: Queering the Museum project at RAMM and I am interviewing Chris White. Hello, Chris.
PARTICIPANT 1: Hi.
INTERVIEWER 1: Welcome. So we’re asking everyone to choose an object that they can connect to from the museum, so could you tell us which object you’ve chosen and can you describe it to us?
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah, so I think the proper name of the object is Saint Peter Trampling the Devil and it’s basically a big wooden statue, I guess you’d call it, it sort of looks like the kind of thing you’d have on the front of a ship, like a figurehead, and it’s made out of oak, I know that from the little thing, and it’s been painted, I think repainted, so some of it’s quite colourful and some of it’s not, the wood’s just been worn away and it’s a big Saint Peter, he’s sort of life-sized and he’s an old white guy with a beard and a big robe and he’s got his bare foot out and under his foot is a quite small devil, which has just half a body at the bottom of the statue and the devil is getting trampled, I guess, he’s getting squished.
INTERVIEWER 1: Great, thank you, it’s quite an imposing object in the museum, isn’t it?
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah, yeah it is.
INTERVIEWER 1: Great. And so why this object? If you could tell us about that in particular, what drew you to it?
PARTICIPANT 1: I think like you say it is just really imposing. It’s big and it’s quite sinister and it’s like nothing that I’ve seen before and I think even reading into it a little bit, I know that it’s not a very, it’s quite an unusual thing for this area, there isn’t a real tradition of having giant wooden statues of saints and I think that intrigued me. And then also the idea of where it was placed and it was apparently on a shop on the corner of North Street and the high street, which I think is exactly where an ATM is now. And it was just on the corner and it was just above a shop and no one quite knows why it was there or what it was for. The shop probably wasn’t selling bibles or whatever, it was just part of that and also the fact that there’s this intrigue around it of well, where did it come from and the idea is that they think that it was probably made by an immigrant, someone from France or Germany, or the Low Countries, it said, and I don’t know what the Low Countries are. I think it’s the Netherlands and stuff, isn’t it? Okay. Yes, so that’s intriguing and just the idea that in the early sixteenth century that there was this fairly large immigrant population in Exeter, which is something that I didn’t know about at all, which is interesting, but I guess that’s not why I was drawn to it. I found that out later on. I was drawn to it because, I kind of always am drawn to big statues and especially if they are kind of like commercial things. I don’t know if I can really explain that very well, but yeah, I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER 1: Is it, because it seems like there’s a tradition of these statues – if you walk along Sidwell Street in Exeter, there’s-
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah, I know you mean, you’ve got the, and that tells a story of, oh, I should know what that is.
INTERVIEWER 1: [missed] [00:04:06] there’s a story there, so but to have Saint Peter and as you described it, to have a shop and now there’s an ATM there in terms of that, so something that is in marking part of the city and an object, so that’s quite-
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah, and the idea of it jutting out of that building and it would have looked like the front of a ship, I think, and I think it would have been quite, looking at the colours that I think have been repainting onto it, I’m not sure, I think it would have been a really colourful thing as well, it’s quite a garish thing.
INTERVIEWER 1: So it has multiple stories, this object, as well. As part of that narrative of the museum. And that it could have been made from somebody who was an immigrant as well so you were drawn to that story of it as well.
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER 1: Do you think another LGBTQ person would have connected with it?
PARTICIPANT 1: I’m not too sure. I feel like when I looked at it, and I was looking around the museum and thinking with that question in mind and trying to think about an object and as soon as I saw it I felt like, well, I feel like I am going to pick this object and I have got a bit of a strange personal reason for doing that, just because of a story that connects to it, but I do think generally maybe they would? Because it’s interesting, that it was made by, or the idea that it was probably made by this immigrant living in Exeter in the sixteenth century, I think that’s really interesting because there’s this sense of the other and the sense of the outside and also this idea of this iconography that’s looming out and is watching over you. I think whether you’ve grown up in a religious family or not, I think for lots of people that’s really interesting and really evocative, especially the devil getting squished. Also I thought it was maybe just a little bit homoerotic. [laughs] But I’m not too sure people would agree with me on that.
INTERVIEWER 1: Well I mean that’s your response to it. I was going to ask you about actually faith in terms of that, the religious kind of context and you just sort of touched on that before you started talking about the homoerotic and so in terms of interpretation and as an LGBTQ person, how we might connect things that aren’t necessarily identifiable to things that we would connect with and I wondered if you could just talk a little bit about the fact that it is an object that connects to say, faith or morality, can you say anything about that? No? No, that’s fine. That’s fine. I think the museum, until we start looking more closely with the objects in the museum, you start to unpack those stories-
PARTICIPANT 1: But I mean it is interesting, just the idea of looking at things, looking at religious things and not having that language and not being a religious person, because there’s certain things about it, like the fact that he’s holding his crossed keys and obviously those are, I mean I’m not a religious person but I’m like, okay, I know who Saint Peter is and those are the keys to heaven and he’s reading a book which I assume is the guestlist, or whatever it’s called. And so there’s that iconography around it but yeah, looking at certain things especially in a museum and especially in this museum and just not quite knowing, even if it’s something that’s come from Exeter and it’s a big part of our culture and our history and just not really understanding the symbolism or the language around that, I think that is kind of yeah, it’s interesting, just not being able, yeah, that’s just interesting.
INTERVIEWER 1: And can you talk more about the homoeroticism around it? Are you happy to talk about that?
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah. I thought it was a little bit homoerotic because well, it’s just the fact that this guy is squishing Satan with his foot. He’s got his foot kind of, yeah, on his body, on his naked body as well, and Satan’s looking really angry, or the devil, or whatever he’s called, is looking really angry in this and Saint Peter is not even looking at him. He’s just looking at his book. He doesn’t even seem to be aware that he’s stood on this devil and there’s just something about the power play in that which I think is a little bit sexy. Also sort of reminds me, when I was growing up in Coventry there was, well there still is, outside Coventry Cathedral there’s a big statue by Jacob Epstein of, who is it, it’s Saint Gabriel, no Gabriel was an angel, wasn’t he? One of the saints and he’s stood over the body of a really massive devil who is all tied up and that was sort of like, that was like a sexual awakening as a kid, because that devil, he’s a very sexy devil. He’s got a lot going on. He’s got a great dad bod.
INTERVIEWER 1: So there’s something about statues and connections and so that thread from childhood to the kind of connected to [missed] [00:10:36] in some ways is really interesting.
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah, sort of, yeah.
INTERVIEWER 1: Brilliant.
PARTICIPANT 1: Bit odd, but…
INTERVIEWER 1: And how do you feel about having your voice represented in the museum?
PARTICIPANT 1: Yeah, great. I feel like yeah, I guess in terms of having queer voices in the museum, having LGBTQIA+ voices in the museum, it isn’t something that I’d ever really thought about or considered before learning about your project and about Queering the Museum more generally, it’s just not something that I ever thought, was it important, or just never really considered the fact that there are but of course there is a narrative that’s at the forefront and there is this idea of what a museum should be and as soon as I started to learn more about it you do realise that certain stories are more hidden and you do want to draw them out just because they’re interesting. I think learning about the sexuality and the sexual identity and the gender identity of people that lived a hundred, 200, 500 years ago, that is like the human connection. That is the, it’s the fun stuff as well. It’s the stuff that makes them human and it’s the stuff that you can connect to them about and really do want to learn about so I think it is important for those reasons because it’s really easy to look at something from 500 years ago and not have any connectedness to that person or the people who lived then and not think about them as having gender identity or having any kind of sexuality, so yeah, so I think it’s important for those reasons.
INTERVIEWER 1: Thank you. I mean I think that you’ve also answered the next question; what’s the importance of this project to you in your response there, but do you think there’s anything else you’d like to-?
PARTICIPANT 1: I guess I didn’t really talk about what’s good about having my voice in the museum.
INTERVIEWER 1: But you’ve talked about the wider project, so yeah. Is there anything that you think, I wish I’d said that? That you’d like to say either about the object or its wider resonance or personal resonance or-
PARTICIPANT 1: There’s things I wish I hadn’t said like the devil being sexy because people are going to look at that. [laughs] And he’s not really. I think he’s also ginger, which I also was immediately drawn to. That’s not like me comparing a queer identity to a ginger identity, because that’s not a thing but that’s always intrigued me, like the fact that the devil is often portrayed as a ginger and a redhead and yeah, the fact that ginger people get stick even now, I don’t really understand why. So yeah, there was a bit of that and it also sort of reminded me of I think whenever I see statues like this it always makes me think of when I was a kid, in Coventry again, there was outside my, my mum went to a hairdresser and it was upstairs of a cafe, and downstairs there was this statue outside and it was like this quite grotesque caricature cartoony figure like a big fibreglass statue thing and it was a hairdresser and he was a guy who had a purple tank top and a big earring and he had big pouty lips like he was doing that pouty face and he had a big ginger quiff and like, a little hand on his hip there, holding the scissors. It was just incredibly camp but it was grotesque, it was horrible, it was this weird caricature of a gay camp hairdresser from the nineties and whenever we went past it or whenever we went near it, my sister would be like, that’s you. Not in a mean, well it was kind of mean. That always sticks with me, the idea that if I saw that now I don’t know, sometimes I think about it and I think surely that didn’t exist or he wasn’t that sort of camp and I don’t know, I just really, really didn’t like it when I was a kid because I think it’s sort of in that category of thinking about when I was a kid and not really knowing much about what gay men were or looked like or having any kind of representation and looking at that, I always remember that and then one episode of The Simpsons where Homer thinks Bart’s gay and takes him to a steel plant and they’re all you know, yoo-hoo, and I don’t know, these weird caricatures that I was kind of a little bit afraid of when I was a kid. But anyway, I hated that statue.
INTERVIEWER 1: Yeah, I mean again so that’s I think really important in terms of the notion of those awful stereotypes that we’ve all kind of lived with or continue to resurface and surface and there is… one of the things that I suppose is great about this project is that you get to kind of really open up a new narrative about an object that we haven’t thought about before and there’s real value in that because it widens all our thinking in terms of what something might mean to someone rather than an imposed version of something, if that makes sense. Brilliant. Thank you.
PARTICIPANT 1: Thanks. Sorry, I said some odd things, didn’t I?
INTERVIEWER 1: No, you’re fine.
[00:16:59] End of transcript